Monday, 17 September 2018

Lindisfarne...Birds, Butterflies and a Body!

 15th Sept.  With it being a Saturday and the tides giving the opportunity of a full day on the island we ought not to have been surprised at how busy the road was leading to the causeway, and we found the car-park almost full on arrival.  Sam and I had spotted a few birds on the journey north including Lapwings, Kestrel and on approaching the causeway, Common Buzzard.  Our plan to park at the start of the causeway was thwarted as we found the parking area is now out of bounds and the entrance blocked by a large rock, and other space was already taken up.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the drive over to the island despite little sign of birdlife.  The sun was now breaking through the cloud giving that ethereal feel to the area that often exists and it is unsurprising that many folk feel a spiritual air to the whole area of Lindisfarne.   Once we were striding out on the island we found despite a southerly wind, the autumnal atmosphere was chilled and I was glad to have put on that thicker jumper before leaving home.

Painted Lady and Red Admiral Butterfly

As always it was easy to get away from the crowd who in the main seemed to be heading in the direction of the castle, which certainly looks grand again now that the scaffolding has been removed.  We headed for one of our favourite viewing areas and had it all to ourselves the entire time we spent there.  A Willow Warbler was soon found.  Grey Seals were laid out on the sands in two very large clusters, with other scattered around and land and in the water, some of them tussling together in pairs.  I don’t think I have ever heard the calling of the Grey Seals so well as I did today.  The wolfish, haunting and melancholic sounding song filled the chilled air and made for an unusual atmosphere.  It is little wonder that the ‘selkie’ is the subject of so much myth and legend.  Adding to the atmosphere was a skein of between 50 to 60 calling Pink footed Geese flying in perfect aerodynamic formation above our heads.  There were also the calls from many waders in the bay which included Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.  Two Golden Plover flew from behind our backs to join them.  Bar-tailed Godwit were about in very good numbers.  Through the telescope we were able to pick up hundreds of Brent Geese at distance towards Fenham Flats.  Swallows and Sand Martins flew in small numbers and there were several Red breasted Mergansers and Eider Duck on the water, the latter very appropriately swimming across from the area of St Cuthbert’s Island.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

As we moved on having seen not a single fellow human in the area I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the many visitors to the island today would hear the Grey Seals calling, or perhaps even see them!

Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly

We wandered through the village towards the ‘Vicar’s’ Garden where we found only a singing Robin, before we took the path over the Heugh towards the harbour.  From this point onwards, we were to find little in the way of birdlife on the island!  We took a slight diversion to look at the ongoing archaeological dig near the Priory.  I found later that there is quite a bit of information about this dig on the web and it’s though that the findings are possibly/probably the remains of the original Lindisfarne Priory, the present one dating back to the Norman Period.  We found that two of the diggers were presently cleaning down human skeletal remains.  The skull, femur and I think, what was part of the rib cage, were clearly seen.  I found it quite mind blowing to think that this skeleton may be from the Anglo-Saxon Period and we could be standing on the exact spot where the Lindisfarne Gospels were written.  I’m mindful that the skeleton was once a human being with dreams just like ourselves and I wonder what he (we are sure it was a ‘he’) would make of us all now?  Whatever the final decision as to age of the skeleton is, there are many years of history between it and ourselves, but I always feel it is easier to feel closer to the past than it is the future.

Painted Lady and Red Admiral Butterfly

Having walked to the harbour and finding a few waders, but nothing new apart from at some point finding a White Wagtail, we adjourned for lunch in the village pub before continuing our walk, this time along the lonnen.  The lonnen was extremely quiet as was the rest of the walk past the pool and hide.  We barely saw a bird until we were up to the dunes and found a male Stonechat and watched a Kestrel at some distance.  The pool held Little Grebe, Moorhen and Mute Swans and we were able to get closer to the Kestrel.  The highlight of the walk was another skein of Pink footed Geese flying south down the coastline.  It occurred to us that it was possible that they had not long left Iceland.  Looking across to the Farne Islands we found the light made it look as though each island was floating on a bed of nothingness. There was of course the usual exciting view down the coast with ‘castles in the air’.

Small White Butterfly

The afternoons walk was simply not about birds, but some very nice butterflies made up for this.  A particular patch on the lonnen held 10+ Red Admiral Butterflies and a Painted Lady Butterfly which looked as though they were feeding before migrating as they seemed to be intoxicated (they were intoxicating to watchers) from the flowers and pretty much unaware of our presence allowing a good photographic opportunity.  I find that it isn’t that often that you get such opportunities in this part of the world.  Along with them were Small White, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.  We spoke to several passers-by who all stopped to take a close look.  I was quite surprised to find that no one knew the species of butterfly that they were looking at.  They will now!  Our most interesting chat of the day was to a lady visitor from Australia who’s grand-father left Newcastle, I think she said in 1919, and set up a farm in Australia.  The lady explained he had left because of lack of work in the Northeast of England at the time and it had been very tough work beginning farming on rough 
ground.  I was perspiring at the thought of it.  I really was perspiring by now!

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

When we left the island, we found the area on both sides of the causeway lacked birds.  Our stop at Budle Bay didn’t provide the rewards that we had found last week as the tide today was so far out, but we did find many Pink footed Geese in the distance.
Well, a quiet day regarding birds but an interesting and really enjoyable day in any event.  Lindisfarne never disappoints.


  1. Always nice to get summer leavers and winter arrivals on the same day. Have happy memories of a March day years ago with Brent & sandwich tern sharing a beach. 😉

  2. Always good to hear from you Derek. The years pass quickly, but the memories remain clear with me too. I've still only seen one Barrow's Goldeneye! Cheers.